ABM Success Starts With Your ICP

ABM Success Starts With Your ICP

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Video Overview

A lot of people claim to be doing Account-Based Marketing (ABM), but very few are doing it well.

The reality is, as marketers, we’re guilty of making it overly complex and difficult, when it should be simple.

So the question is, where do you begin?

Declan Mulkeen, CMO of Strategic IC, explains why the road to ABM success starts with your Ideal Customer Profile (ICP).

In this episode, you’ll learn:

  • How to understand whether ABM is right for your business
  • The difference between demand generation and ABM
  • How to build an ICP


Andy Culligan

Andy Culligan
CMO of Leadfeeder

Declan Mulkeen

Declan Mulkeen
CMO of Strategic IC

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Interview Transcript

Andy Culligan: So, hi guys, really happy to have Declan Mulkeen on from Strategic IC. Myself and Declan have been doing a fair bit of work together over the past couple of months. Ever since the COVID-19 pandemic came in, myself and Declan have probably been speaking on a weekly basis. We've gone back and forth on different ABM-related topics.

I come from a background where it was very highly focused on account-based marketing, and it's been great to be able to pick Declan's brain. We've been having some great conversations around what works, what doesn't work, what could potentially work, and whatnot. But Declan, tell us a little bit what you guys at Strategic IC have been doing and what do you see as the way forward here, mate?

Declan Mulkeen: Hi Andy. Yeah, so obviously Strategic IC, we're an ABM agency and we work primarily with B2B tech and SaaS companies globally and that, kind of our good fit companies is any company who has a complex sales cycle where the average order value is north of around about 50,000, 60,000 pounds, dollars. And that's kinda almost like a pre-requisite for any company who's looking to do ABM.

ABM is clearly not... It's not a strategy that everyone can look to implement and deploy because you've got to have a certain bandwidth within the company to be able to do that.

So as an agency what we've been seeing over the course of the last three or four months since the COVID-19, obviously impacted all of us, is that actually... Quite an uptick actually, an uptick in companies coming to us, to talk about ABM, and I know that from our experiences of doing webinars together and talking around lead gen, demand generation, ABM, that companies have definitely been looking for, what is the better way to go and address and talk to your addressable market now that in-person events have become off-limits?

That a number of strategies that companies have deployed to date are no longer applicable. And so digital marketing, the stuff that you're doing at Leadfeeder, the stuff that we're doing have become very much in vogue really.

AC: Yeah, I agree. I think there's probably one point that I probably argue with, in terms of ABM not being for everyone. I think it depends on what your strategy is like you can go big or you can go... You can tailor it to have it based on what you can afford.

I think from my perspective, it depends... So how much you can spend is based on what your lifetime value is of your customers obviously, right. So you wanna be, at least, winning back the amount of money that they're gonna be giving you over a certain time frame, so it depends on what... it depends per industry what those customer acquisition costs or lifetime value ratios would be.

But I think you can do some level of account-based targeting and some level of account-based marketing regardless of how low that number might be.

DM: Well, yes and no. So for example, you're already familiar with this Andy, in terms of the different ABM programs that are out there, from one-to-many to one-to-few, to a Strategic ABM one-to-one. So if you're doing a one-to-many approach where you're targeting hundreds or even thousands of accounts, and obviously there's little to no personalization involved at all, then you can obviously deploy technology and you can target a large number of accounts. Now, that would have a relatively low cost compared to other programs.

So yes, in effect you can do that and obviously some of the work that... We use Leadfeeder as part of our... One of our technology options that we have in our tech stack, and we find it incredibly useful to identify and to de-anonymize website traffic and then to run a campaign since then, and we've learned on you guys, and to understand how you do it effectively, and we've applied many of those rules to ourselves.

So I think... Yeah, I think in answer to your question, there is an element that can be done if you're doing that very light veneer approach to ABM. But then once you start moving into kind of looking to target accounts, one-to-few, which is typically 15 to 20 accounts, or obviously one-to-one on a very much an individual account basis, then obviously your investment ramps up. The number of resources internally and externally using an agency such as Strategic IC, starts to increase.

And then you need to then... I mean, it's not necessarily big game hunting, but there is a certain level of big game hunting involved, if you're looking to win a large corporate who's in the Fortune 500 or FTSE 100, then you're gonna require a large degree of help, both internally and externally to do that.

I think at the end of the day, if the price is great enough, I.e., if you're setting into mid-market and enterprise, and you're looking at... I mean average lifetime value is, for example, 100,000, 200,000, 300,000, 400,000 pounds or dollars, then would you spend 40,000, 50,000, 60,000, 70,000 pounds to acquire that client? The answer is yes you would.

And that's what we're seeing from our clients, is when they're dealing with complex life cycles, when they're dealing with a very complex decision-making units that's spread out across the company, that go from marketing into sales, into operations, into the C-suite, that you have to be able to influence a number of different people across the organisation because they're all involved.

And you've been involved in large organizations as have I and everyone who gets involved in the executive suite, whenever a large decision which requires an investment is required then many people are involved, and either directly or as influencers. So you've gotta be able to get your message and a different message across because how you talk to the CFO, is gonna be different to how you talk to the CMO, right?

AC: For sure, for sure. Just on that point, I think we probably have a lot of people in our marketing teams, and something that I have come across a bit, and I think we've discussed before, is that a lot of people claim to be doing some level of account-based marketing, but really are they? And are they doing it well? That's arguable, and I think... There's a lot of companies in the tech space and in the SaaS space that I speak with marketing leaders and they're like, "I don't know how to do it." And I say, "It's not that hard," you know?

It's like there is a different... Couple of different things that you need to have in your arm or before you can start going to do it. You need to know where to make the investments. But it's not rocket science and we should stop trying to make it rocket science as marketers we're very guilty of that. We try to make things seem a lot more complex and complicated than they are because we want to sound clever.

I try to shy away from that. You're also one of those people as well from my impression. If you were to give people some tips today Declan in terms of what they can get... What they can do to start building the building blocks to get to ABM success, what would you advise people to do?

DM: Well, the first thing we always do is... And I think you're absolutely right Andy. When you scratch below the surface on many, many conversations with prospects and potential customers, and you ask them what they're doing, and they do allude to the fact that they're doing ABM. But in reality, it's kind of almost a version of demand generation that most companies are doing and they're targeting accounts that they tend to be targeting a defined group of buyer persona within those accounts. And they're running some demand gen tactics through some paid advertising and some outbounds and some SDR. But it's really demand gen with a little bit of ABM on top.

So what we tend to find is one of the key questions we ask people is, what do you want to achieve? And we ask some questions around that. And when you dig into the questions, you say, "What are you trying to achieve? What do you want to do as a business?" And so the question we always ask people is, "Look, are you looking to penetrate accounts? So have you got accounts that you're currently working with that you want to penetrate? So you want to go deep or you want to go wide?" That's the first question and if the answer is yes, then ABM is a good choice for you.

We ask it... Are you looking to change perceptions? So do you want people to understand your brand in a different way? Is it... One client, we were working with for example or we worked with... They were working in the SMB space and they want to move into the enterprise space and they're completely unknown in the enterprise space. So that is a change in the perceptions, therefore, ABM is a very good option there.

Are you looking to win new business? If the answer is yes and it matches that profile in terms of complex sales cycle, large order values, etcetera, then ABM is a good choice. And finally, if you're looking to develop accounts further, then obviously ABM. So it's all about... If the context is right for ABM, then we can pursue the conversation.

And so once we've kinda gone through that kinda diagnostic with a client, we then say, "Right, let's talk about accounts," right? And so the very first thing we ask companies is, "Well, let's just talk about your Ideal Customer Profile." And you've done an awful lot of work Andy around this your ICP. What is your ideal customer? Talk to us. Paint a picture. And so we dig into that an awful lot. So we always ask companies that we work with to go and think about that.

And we give them a questionnaire, we do some interviews, we do some recordings, but we ask them to think about, who are your most profitable customers? Which customers have you been with for the longest time from a longevity point of view? Which customers tend to stay with you for a long time? Which customers do you find are easiest to sell into? Which industries do you find have a very good acceptance of your product or solution?

And then going back to industries, what industries are you finding are working well for you at the moment? What's the employee size? What revenue? Which geography? Which locations? Which countries, etcetera, work well for you? So once we ask the companies and we kinda dig down deep on that, once we build that ICP, that is something that is solid and that is such a strong foundation for every company and most companies don't really have a strong ICP.

And I think that's the very first thing that we ask people to work on really, really hard is their ICP, the Ideal Customer Profile. And if you can have that, then there are many more things you can add on top. So you can add on top, what technology they use, how mature are they, how many salespeople do they have, how many marketeers do they have, there's a whole level of stuff that you can actually add on.

And an ICP isn't something that is set in stone and lasts forever. We always say to our clients that you need to be reviewing it on a quarterly basis, 'cause it's gonna move. And you know the ICP that you started with at beginning of the year and the ICP that we started with in January has got nothing to do with the ICP that we're dealing with now, right?

AC: For sure enough, for sure. Everything influences that. Look at what's been happening over the past eight weeks.

DM: Correct, and we've been running this Let's Talk ABM series you know, we interviewed you as part of that. When we were talking to the CMO of Cognism, Alice de Courcy, she mentioned that one of her ICPs which was recruitment completely disappeared. So they just said right we've gotta change our ICP and not focus on that. Because that's no longer relevant. It may come back, but for now, we're gonna ignore that because recruitments is not gonna be anything that's gonna work in the coming weeks to months.

So going back to your question Andy, how do you start, I always say to people start with your ideal customer profile. Get your foundation right. Know what works for you. Know what's worked for you in the past, is that still relevant, and with that then you can then move forward to what is the basis of all account-based marketing, which is account selection.

Because obviously, the difference between what we talked about before demand generation and account-based marketing, demand generation is the classic, you're fishing with a net. So you'll catch big fish, small fish, crabs, you'll catch everything. Whereas obviously account-based marketing, you're fishing with a rod. So you choose what you want.

So then once you have your ICP, you then layer on top the accounts that you want. So if you're looking for SaaS companies in the United States with a turnover of a million, of a billion dollars or whatever, then you can actually then say, "Okay, these companies meet my ICP." And with that foundation, then everything else comes afterwards in terms of the insights that you create, the content strategy, the messaging strategy, the channel tactics. All that stuff is, "Relatively simple," once you've got that foundation.

AC: Also with company strategy as well from everywhere, from even in an investment perspective, if you want to go and see hey, what is my total addressable market look like, you can see, okay, these are the list of companies that I can potentially sell to which are the ones that I'm actually probably gonna be able to sell to.

And then you're gonna be able to say, okay. Are we looking at the right market here? Is there enough in here for us to stay alive even? Is this the right way to go from a strategy perspective from the company. I'm not gonna be able to show this to investors to say, hey, invest in my company to push forward into this space.

There's so many things that you can... Additional items that you get off the back of knowing that information that is very powerful, but it sounds really easy to put together, but you just, you hit the nail on the head in terms of getting the ICP really nailed.

It's really difficult, really difficult and then even when you do have the ICP now pulling that list of accounts again is very difficult because you need probably marketing to be put on that list. Then you need sales to be sifting through and making sure there's no dead weight in there. Then you also need to take into other things into account such as, hey, is there any hope of with that actually winning this and they need to tier it out maybe based on that. Saying maybe tier one is things that we have to win, tier two things are nice to win and tier three things are like real long tail of a problem we'll never win, and then you base everything off of that but look... The key thing that I could take away from this conversation, Declan, is that really work hard on that ICP.

DM: And I think so. And I think that you also mentioned which is the real differentiator rather with ABM and that is... You have to get everybody involved in this process. And I remember I was talking to somebody once about ABM and they just said to me look, ABM is more important to themselves than marketing and by that it's business-critical so it goes across the whole organization and that's why, unless the C-suite is involved in ABM, it's not gonna be a success.

So, very often when we're talking to clients we invariably get involved members of the C-suite be it the CEO, be it the CFO as part of the onboarding strategy because it's the whole business has to change and has to pivot towards ABM because it's the future of the company in effect because it's gonna be...

It's gonna be the future profile of the accounts and the clients and the customers that you're gonna have over the course of next one, two, three, four, five years. So, what ABM tends to do is, which is different to marketing other kind of marketing strategies, ABM tends to unite the company and you see that kind of dramatic shift in mindset of sales and marketing and when we've done work with workshops where we bring together as you mentioned the sales and marketing teams to work on that account selection.

There's a real kind of light bulb moment that they're all sitting around the table and they're all kind of discussing and discussing the pros and cons of why company X or company Y should be part of that account selection and when you hear them articulate the reasons why or the why not, it really gets the marketeers and the sales guys to actually speak ultimately the same language and that language is the language of revenue.

AC: Yeah.

DM: Because at the end of the day MQL, SQL, lead, all these terms, these are divisive terms in a funny kind of way. They don't really help us, what helps us is how much revenue do we need to make this year? What's our gross profit that we need to make? What accounts will help us to get there? And what... How can the two teams work together to get that?

And you mentioned yourself and I think it's and your chief revenue officer, you guys work side by side and you own the same revenue target and there's no discussion, right.

AC: The thing is, sales and marketing need to be on the same page there in my opinion. Otherwise, they start drifting in different directions but my approach is always one of alignment between marketing and sales. Marketing teams I have been working with for years have been, getting really deep into the bushes in terms of their attribution.

What should we be attributing to that? What should be the source and this opportunity versus that? And I said well, is our revenue growing? Are we targeting these accounts? Are these accounts coming to events? Are these accounts downloading our content? Are these accounts in X, Y, Z? Yes. Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, they are. Well, then in that case then whatever we're doing from a marketing perspective is working and we're turning that stuff into pipeline.

Let's stop like looking at, hey, what was the source on this one opportunity, because if you're an enterprise business, so did the bigger deals, you're talking about the sort of 100K order size per year, for example. You're not gonna close one of those just from one specific touchpoint, it's not gonna happen. It's like... It's probably the wrong phrase to use but death by a thousand cuts, and let's not call it that. Let's say close by a thousand touch-points or something.

But there's many different touchpoints and I think it's a mix of marketing and sales but it's both enabling one another. Marketing enables the sales team content and giving them a platform to stand on their events and different things and sales at the same time are also enabling marketing with the intel from that specific account let them know what to be creating.

Okay, with that we'll call it a day then, Declan. Thank you so much, mate. It's been really interesting talking with you again.

DM: Thank you. Thank you, Andy.

AC: And, yeah I look forward to speaking with you again soon, mate.

DM: Thank you, Andy. And all the best. Take care.

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